Climate change is reshaping our waters and our state, as well as the local career paths available to young Mainers. Things are much different than 20 years ago when, as a kid growing up Down East, becoming a “scientist” seemed a bit fanciful.

Like so many kids from Maine, I was born with a love for the ocean and a fascination about the worlds hiding beneath its surface.

At that time, however, I had little to no idea how I could make a career out of that passion. At the very least, I thought it would force me far away from the people and places I loved. I never could have imagined that I would be pursuing that passion only a few hours away from my hometown as an ocean studies professor at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and as a research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay.

As the youngest of six children, I grew up in a busy home where my parents worked multiple jobs to support our family. They instilled in all of us that hard work can overcome any obstacle that life presents. They held high expectations and pushed the importance of education in achieving our personal goals, despite their own education being interrupted by circumstances outside of their control.

Opportunities to expand my education beyond my high school classroom were sparse, particularly those that didn’t financially burden my family. So, when I read about Bigelow Laboratory’s Keller BLOOM program for high school juniors – an opportunity to learn and work alongside professional ocean researchers without any cost to my family – I jumped at it.

I can honestly say the experience changed my life.


It was then that I first peered through a microscope and glimpsed what would become the focal point of my career: phytoplankton. These are the microscopic marine plants that produce half of the oxygen we breathe, form the basis of the ocean’s food webs and, put simply, make life possible on Earth. Getting this hands-on experience opened a new world to me, and it forever convinced me of the importance of giving young Mainers the same opportunity.

The Gulf of Maine is now one of the fastest warming parts of the ocean, and the world’s eyes are on us to preview the challenges that many other ecosystems and communities will face in the coming years. Thrust to the forefront of climate change, all of us in Maine now find ourselves to be pioneers in understanding and adapting to this new world.

What changes can we expect? How fast will they arrive? How should our communities respond? Scientists have never been more needed in our state. This demand has created an opportunity – and an urgent need – for young people to become scientists and stay in Maine.

When I first spent that week at Bigelow Laboratory, it was housed in a small collection of rented buildings. Today, the scientists there work in a state-of-the-art research facility, and a number of other ocean science organizations have sprung up along the coast. Collectively, they’re investing tens of millions of dollars in the state and recasting career options for Mainers.

The Keller BLOOM program I participated in is still going strong, giving 16 students each May – preferably one from each Maine county – the free opportunity to work alongside researchers and explore Maine’s marine environment through field and laboratory work. The program accepts applications from January to early April each year, and there are numerous other opportunities for students of all ages at Bigelow Laboratory and other research institutes throughout the state.

Getting our young people hands-on experience with science is critical if they are going to be a part of this research wave and help lead our state through the climate challenges we face. I’ve seen the transformative power of these experiences countless times in the lives of my students – and in my own.

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